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Brandon Laird: In the outfield and on the radar

Tweet [1]

ph_477186Brandon Laird might have been the breakout star of the Yankees minor league system this year. As a 27th-round pick, he’s never been considered a sure thing, but he’s consistently hit and hit for power. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Laird hit .281 with 25 homers and 102 RBI this season, then the Yankees sent him for more at-bats in the Arizona Fall League.

Why? Because they want him to learn the outfield corners. [2]

During my time covering the Yankees minor league system, officials consistently made reference to the idea of a corner utility man. Someone who can fill in at first, third, left and right. It’s pretty much what the Yankees had in Eric Hinske late last season. It’s not especially easy to find, but it’s kind of an ideal bench player.

In theory, it would be a bigger bat than whoever might fill in at second base, shortstop or center field. Those bench spots are generally expected to provide defense and speed (Ramiro Pena this year, Brett Gardner last year). That corner bench player would bring offense, first and foremost.

That’s why Laird is on my radar, and that’s why it caught my eye that he was playing the outfield in the Fall League. Laird is a natural third baseman with experience at first, but giving him outfield reps makes him an attractive Major League option sooner rather than later. Kevin Russo got some Fall League starts in the outfield two years ago, and look at where he got most of his big league time this season.

Laird needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter, so he’s practically a lock for a spot on the 40-man. He could easily play a role in New York before the end of next season, especially if he keeps hitting and gets comfortable in the outfield.